Restoring Yale’s historic doors – the history is in the hinges

February 21, 2020

Walking around Yale’s campus, it’s easy to take for granted the beautifully designed buildings, their intricate details, and grand entryways. It is hard to imagine all the work that goes into the restoration and upkeep of these massive entrance doors. Recently, the large wooden doors on the Grove Street side of Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall (SSS) were reconstructed with great care by members of the Mill Shop Team and finished by members of the Paint Shop Team.

SSS opened in 1931 and houses an often-used, 400+ seat auditorium, accessed through the Grove Street entrance. The sidewalks and stairs need to be kept clear during bad winter weather, so lots of salt is applied. Salt eats away the finish on wood. By 2014, the doors were badly weathered, splintered, and ready for replacement.

In the fall of that year, the doors were removed and temporary doors were installed. The 80+ year-old, white-oak doors were brought to Yale’s Millwork Shop. Before work could begin on the 200-pound doors, their wrought-iron hinges and doorknobs were removed and set aside. Then, two layers of quarter-sawn white oak were peeled off and the back section was saved. The entire process took several months.

Steps included rebuilding the door fronts using white oak, while staining and finishing it with a marine varnish to keep it weather-resistant. “The way the grain runs in quarter-sawn lumber (a tree trunk cut length-wise into quarters), keeps the wood movement down to a minimum, so is perfect for doors,” said Barry VanSteenbergen, Physical Plant Mill Worker.

In the Paint Shop, the hinges were carefully sandblasted, repainted, and remounted.  While working on the hinges, workers noticed the name Jacob Schmidt etched in them. Although another solution was found to replace the parts needed, curiosity led to a quick Google search on Jacob Schmidt. Jacob, a master blacksmith and metal designer, worked for Samuel Yellin Metalworkers out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the 1920s. He worked on the SSS doors and most likely other buildings around campus, according to Claire Yellin, granddaughter of Samuel Yellin. Samuel Yellin Metalworkers is still in business today and run by Ms. Yellin.SSS doors and hinges before (left) and after (right) photos.

The beautifully restored doors with their shiny, black hand-forged hinges and knobs once again adorn the side entrance of SSS welcoming students to class.